Mangled Metaphors and a Copying Crisis

As heard on television —

“He has Superman syndrome, like a lot of young men. He wants to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.” Stop. Wait a minute. Isn’t that the daring young man on the flying trapeze? That’s a whole different superhero. Or does your young man in tights prefer to leap tall buildings in a single bound?

And this was not, repeat, NOT a part of the convention taking place in Cleveland.

When people borrow analogies or lyrics to express themselves, it works because those analogies and quotes are part of our shared culture. Shakespeare. Dr. Seuss. Ferber. Dickenson. And more, of course.

But what happens when someone uses or reuses someone else’s words? This time, it’s called plagiarism. Without ripping on Melania or those who jumped to her defense (My Little Pony? Give me a break), I’ll tell you what plagiarism means to me.

I teach. I teach middle school language arts and social studies, two classes that require a lot of writing. My students are required to submit their work to a service called Check My Work so that I can see that their work is original. Let’s set that requirement aside for the moment, and I’ll tell you what plagiarism tells me.

When a student copies, it shows me that the student doesn’t understand the material well enough to paraphrase. Copying, or plagiarizing, doesn’t make kids look smarter; it makes them look less intelligent.

That’s where the plagiarism becomes a problem. It’s not about who copied whom; it’s about the inability or unwillingness to create original work. All the excuses in the world (Kid Rock? Yeah, right) can’t make up for that unwillingness or inability.

In today’s world, we’re picky about originality. We have the resources to check for originality. And when we in the audience recognize work that originated elsewhere, we say so. And if a candidate wants to leap tall buildings in a single bound, he or she had better be ready to put original words on the page or hire someone who can.

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